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Life Cycle Assessment For Architects: 11 Quick Wins and Benefits

Learn how architects can use LCA to assess environmental impacts, design low-carbon projects, specify materials and more.

This article explores how architects can leverage LCA to reduce environmental impact, identify low-carbon solutions, and improve material specification, and shows how LCA also supports compliance with regulatory and voluntary green building standards.

Construction Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) is a science-based methodology for quantifying the lifetime environmental impacts of a building. It is used to measure and reduce the embodied, operational, and whole-life carbon of buildings. Here we share 11 ways in which architects can benefit from using LCA in their projects.

1

LCA enables architects to cut the environmental footprint

LCA allows architects to quickly identify hotspots — or areas of high impact — where they can make significant reductions in material and energy consumption, resource utilization, and waste. For instance, LCA can identify the elements and materials that contribute most of the carbon impacts of the project.

Figure 1 shows how construction LCA helps architects identify emissions hotspots in their building designs. 

2

LCA powers embodied carbon calculations, but is more holistic

As buildings become more energy efficient and as energy grids decarbonize, the embodied carbon impacts of construction — in short, the carbon associated with building products — will become increasingly significant. In response, the World Green Building Council has set a target of reducing the embodied carbon of buildings by 2030 by 40%.

LCA enables architects to assess the embodied carbon impacts of their projects by incorporating the lifetime emissions of the materials used in their designs, from raw material extraction through manufacture, transportation, installation, and maintenance to end-of-life disposal. But LCA allows also accounting for operating carbon emissions to avoid sub-optimization, and considers other environmental impacts besides carbon as well.

Figure 2 visualizes the growing importance of embodied carbon over time.

Growth of embodied carbon importance
3

Architects can maximize carbon reduction with early-stage LCA

The early design phase offers the greatest carbon reduction potential at the lowest cost. Architects can maximize decarbonization and cost-saving potential within a limited window of opportunity by conducting an early LCA.

A lack of data has been a barrier to early-phase LCAs, but One Click LCA’s Carbon Designer 3D tool makes it possible to generate baseline/reference buildings and calculate their impacts based on just building type, gross floor area, and the number of floors. This enables architects to compare the impacts of different design and structural options and material choices and set the environmental impact targets for the entire project.

An early-stage LCA can also determine the carbon-saving potential of refurbishment over new construction: this can significantly reduce the environmental impacts. Learn more about how to optimize carbon early in your project.

Figure 3 shows how Carbon Designer 3D facilitates early-phase design comparisons.

4

Architects can use quantified cost and carbon savings to win tenders

Conducting an LCA early in the design process is not only environmentally beneficial but also the cost-effective way to achieve decarbonization. As projects progress, modifying design components for sustainability often becomes expensive. Discover more benefits of using LCA to optimize carbon in early project stages.

From a business perspective, incorporating LCA as early as possible allows designers to differentiate their tenders and win more business by providing an extra offering. Learn more about the business benefits of construction LCA.

See Figure 4 to understand the relationship between carbon savings and cost over time.

Early LCA enables carbon reduction at a lower cost
5

Incorporate LCA with BIM tools for faster and more accurate results

LCA can be smoothly integrated with Building Information Modelling (BIM) tools such as Autodesk Revit, ArchiCAD, Tekla Structures, Rhinoceros, Solibri Office and others, facilitating quicker data input and saving significant time. This allows progressing LCA at the speed of your design.

Figure 5 shows how One Click LCA can be accessed within Revit to streamline workflow.

Learn how to use LCA with Autodesk Revit, Rhino, Procore, IES-VE, Excel, and more.

6

Harness parametric tools for iterative design evaluations

Parametric design tools such as Grasshopper support dynamic and flexible analysis by allowing users to vary parameters and assumptions to understand how different design choices affect outcomes.

Architects can harness LCA and parametric tools to iteratively explore design alternatives during early design phases as it is not reliant on specific data or scenarios to assess environmental performance. They can assess multiple designs. Learn more about parametric and generative carbon optimization using One Click LCA.

Figure 6 shows the iterative design process using One Click LCA’s Grasshopper plugin. 

LCA within Grasshopper
7

Quickly compare materials and find sustainable solutions

LCA assists architects in choosing materials with lower environmental impacts over their life cycle. This involves considering factors such as embodied energy, carbon emissions, water use, reusability and toxicity.

Figures 7 and 8 show how One Click LCA helps architects identify the most contributing materials and select sustainable alternatives.

8

Assess the energy consumption environmental impacts with LCA

LCA enables architects to assess the energy consumption environmental impacts of different design options. By comparing the environmental impacts of the energy requirements of different building components and systems, architects can make informed decisions to optimize energy performance.

Figures 9 and 10 show how One Click LCA enables architects to calculate energy and water use environmental impacts.

LCA can help architects with cost and carbon comparisons
LCA can help architects with cost and carbon comparisons
9

Use circularity assessments to boost resource efficiency

The construction sector is estimated to generate around a third of all waste, globally. Architects can help to reduce this by “designing out waste”, using circular economy principles, such as designing for deconstruction and reuse, design for disassembly and design for adaptability, as well as specifying materials with recyclability in mind.

LCA enables architects to identify opportunities to incorporate these principles into their designs and to implement ways to reduce waste and promote reuse or recycling throughout a building’s life cycle.

One Click LCA’s Building Circularity Tool enables users to conduct building circularity assessments that comply with these principles, and also requirements of the UK’s London Plan and EU Taxonomy.

Figure 11 shows how One Click LCA’s Building Circularity Tool enables users to measure and visualize the circularity of a design.

Learn more about circularity in construction, designing net zero carbon buildings and life cycle costing in construction.

LCA can help architects with cost and carbon comparisons
10

Win green building credits and comply with regulations

Governments around the world introduce legislations to reduce embodied carbon in construction, meaning that LCAs are becoming an essential part of regulatory compliance.
Conducting an LCA is also an efficient way to achieve credits in most leading green building certification systems, including LEED and BREEAM. An LCA provides quantified, actionable data that can be shared across the project team to boost results.

Learn more about compliance with BREEAM, LEED, DGNB, and over 60 other certifications and standards.

Learn more about complying with regulations and policies driving embodied and whole-life carbon

11

Enhance client communication and win new business

Architects can use LCA results to help clients, investors, and other stakeholders understand the environmental benefits of their designs and promote more informed decision-making.

One Click LCA offers a range of data visualizations which can boost understanding of how different design options and strategies impact results. Bringing clients and others on board builds trust and helps stakeholders understand the long-term value of sustainable design. It also provides architects with a competitive advantage as clients value both transparency and sustainability.

Figure 12 shows how Carbon Design 3D’s model visualizations make it possible to easily identify and communicate sources of emissions hotspots.

How can One Click LCA help architects to get the most from LCA?

One Click LCA aids architects in maximizing the decarbonization potential of their designs. Through integrations with BIM and energy modelling tools, One Click LCA further streamlines the process, promoting cost and time savings.

One Click LCA also offers tools for early carbon optimization, net-zero carbon, circularity and more. One Click LCA offers access to the world’s largest database of environmental construction data, with over 150,000 data points, each of which is up-to-date, verified and localized. Find out more about how One Click LCA works with data.

Conclusion

Architects employ Life Cycle Assessment as a strategic tool to address many challenges associated with sustainability, energy efficiency, material selection, and overall environmental performance. LCA, with its data-driven methodology, paves the way for more sustainable and resilient architectural outcomes.

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